Modern archaeologists are trained experts in the study of people in the past based on physical remains found in the present. Archaeologists carefully map, photograph, and document all aspects of their excavations. They analyze past climates and environments, based on soil samples and animal and plant remains. They collect artifacts such as tools, pottery, jewelry, and furniture. Archaeologists also look at features such as house foundations, storage pits, debris piles, and burials. This evidence helps archaeologists develop a clearer idea of how people lived, including their commercial, social, and political systems. Archaeologists can now analyze DNA from the soft tissues of mummified humans and animals for more information about their diets, age, and health.
To find sites, archaeologists look for evidence of environmental factors needed for survival. These can include water, geographic protection, and nearby trade routes. Sites are also discovered during farming or construction activities. More recently, archaeologists have been able to use new technologies such as radar or satellite images to find sites.
Interest in the ancient Egyptian past is a relatively modern occurrence. After the decline of the Pharaonic and Greco-Roman empires, the tombs and temples were plundered for building stone or in search of treasure. The European archaeological exploration of Egypt began after the French invasion in 1798 under Napoleon. In addition to his army, there were 200 scholars who were brought to conduct surveys and perform excavations throughout Egypt. It was these early expeditions that carried off most of Egypt's artifacts to European and American museums. Interest grew in the study of Egyptian antiquities, called Egyptology, especially after Jean Francois Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone.
Formal Egyptology possibly began with Auguste Mariette, a French archaeologist who found the tomb of the Apis Bull. He became the director of the Antiquities Service and dedicated his life to the excavation and preservation of Egypt's antiquities. He helped to establish a museum in Cairo for the exhibition of Egyptian monuments and treasures. Charles Maspero continued Mariette's work as Director General of the Antiquities Service from 1881 to 1914.
By the nineteenth century, archaeology was established as a science. Excavations were no longer performed for grave robbing and artifact collection, but for the scientific knowledge that could be gained about the ancient cultures. Egyptologists such as William Flinders Petrie applied scientific techniques to their excavations. Howard Carter, who found the tomb of Tutankhamun on Nov. 26, 1922, had been a student of Petrie.
Where early archaeologists had been mostly concerned with uncovering large structures or moving monuments into museums, Petrie paid attention to fragments of pottery, broken amulets, discarded tools, and other artifacts that were previously considered rubbish. He showed that much could be learned from these artifacts in the context in which they were found and many of his innovations are standard practice today.